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FHS marching band takes second place at state finals

November 14, 2012

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Ferndale High School senior India Solomon leaps in the air while the rest of the FHS marching band lies on the ground during the Michigan Competing Bands Association state championship at Ford Field Nov. 3.

The Ferndale High School marching band may not have won its fourth consecutive state title this year, but the squad earned its highest score ever at the annual competition.

On Nov. 3, the three-time defending champions took home second place in the Flight III division of the Michigan Competing Bands Association (MCBA) state marching competition at Ford Field in Detroit. FHS band director Elon Jamison could not be any happier with the effort that earned his students their impressive score of 86.9.

“I think this experience was a real test of character for our kids,” he said. “We didn’t win this competition, but because the kids gave their all from start to finish, we have no regrets about our performance. While there were some tears and some long faces afterwards, they didn’t last very long once the kids realized everything that they had accomplished.”

Led by senior drum major Mallory Fuller and junior drum major Joe Milobar, the 120-member FHS Golden Eagles marching band certainly impressed the MCBA judges. Its 2012 show, “Darkest Before the Dawn,” utilized music from contemporary composers Dmitri Shostakovich, Samuel Barber and David Gillingham to create a sharp aural and visual contrast. The band cast a dark and ominous mood for the first three-quarters of the show, Jamison said, before “pulling out all the stops” and allowing a burst of light to emerge during the final stretch.

The Golden Eagles were defeated at Ford Field by the Muskegon-based Reeths-Puffer High School, which received a score of 90.6. As Jamison noted, Reeths-Puffer had previously competed as a Flight II school — flight designation is determined by school population — before being bumped down to Flight III this year.

“They have been a powerhouse marching band for the last 20 years or so,” he explained. “They are just really, really good; they were the only school all day to score 90 points. When you break that 90-point barrier, it’s because you were basically perfect, or very close to it.”

FHS prides itself on its history of marching-band excellence. Since becoming a member of the MCBA in 1989, the school has placed in the top 10 of its division every year since 1991 at the state competition. The Golden Eagles took home third-place honors in 2003 and 2008, won the state championship four years in a row, from 2004 to 2007, and then again for three straight years, from 2009 to 2011.

Jamison, who has been the band director at FHS since 2004, attributes his marching band’s track record of success to the high standards that it has established for itself.

“We set the bar a little higher — or a lot higher, sometimes — and that’s what separates us from a lot of other schools,” he said. “We work these kids insanely hard at times, but they just keep pushing themselves to get better every single day. They want to be part of something really great, and they’re willing to work for it. I just think we would get totally bored if we weren’t constantly challenging ourselves to improve. Once you stop growing, you start dying.”

Although FHS’ senior marching band members would have loved to bring home another state championship, Jamison believes they should feel nothing but pride for the way they finished off their careers at Ford Field. Their drive to succeed and their strong leadership served as an inspiration to him throughout the season.

“These kids just keep getting better and better,” he said. “The strength of their character and their will is truly stunning. In my mind, this was probably the cleanest, most powerful performance in the history of our program, so I couldn’t be any more proud of these kids.”

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